NHL 1A – Tipp march on, Clare and Dublin register first wins
What a difference a week makes. Let us be frank, Dublin hurlers and management backs were against the wall. After a facile performance against Tipperary at Croke Park a week ago, Ger Cunningham’s charges arrived to Cork with criticism ringing in their ears. Dublin’s response was emphatic and an eight point triumph over a Cork side whose performance was well below the standard required at this level of competition. Dublin were superior throughout the contest. There was a hunger and determination in Dublin’s play from the throw in and set about supplying quick ball into O’Dwyer and Conroy who revelled in the Pairc Ui Rinn surroundings.
After cautious opening exchanges, Ryan O’Dwyer’s goal provided the catalyst for Dublin to produce a much improved opening half performance. 1-8 to no score was the deciding spell of this contest before the interval as Cork’s issues from last season were in full view. Defensive vulnerable throughout, lack of work rate out the pitch where Dublin’s half back line received quick puckouts without any challenge from Cork’s half forward line. Yes, Cork responded to be only four points behind at half-time but Dublin reasserted their dominance when Conroy scored after neat play from Burke in the second half.
Ger Cunningham would have being impressed by the attitude and work rate of his charges throughout the contest particularly when Dublin were reduced to fourteen player after Chris Crummey’s red card. Cork were devoid of any ideas on how to get back into this contest and were unable to thwart Dublin’s running game where player overlaps were created on a regular basis. Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash had to bail the hosts on a couple of occasions due to this with some smart saves.
Dublin get their league campaign off the ground, a win that a week ago looked beyond them. This performance was full of work rate and endeavor with some good passages of play produced. The early ball into the forward line was impressive and Conroy, Burke and O’Dwyer were to the fore. Tougher challenges, higher match tempos loom large in the horizon but Dublin have given themselves a platform to build on.
Cork on the other hand should be worried. This was a performance which exposed work rate and application in all outfield lines. There was a distinct lack of pace around the pitch as Dublin dominated the 50/50 exchanges for long periods. Ellis at centre back did not know whether to follow the movement of O’Dwyer or stick in the pocket; confusion and chaos reigned. The forward line work rate without the ball reared its head as well. The new comers to the team never came to the party and Kingston has questions to answer ahead of upcoming NHL fixtures. Jekyll and Hyde seen in consecutive weeks for the Rebels.
Tipperary impress against Waterford
This was the key fixture of NHL 1A this season. It was a classic opportunity for Waterford to hit an early blow and sent a statement of their ambitions for the upcoming season. Instead, Tipperary without being put under immense pressure secured a comfortable six point victory and left Derek McGrath with questions to ponder.
Walsh Park pitch conditions were not ideal for hurling; the grass was long and the soft conditions under foot did little for the contest which was tough and uncompromising throughout.
Waterford’s shot selection at times was horrendous, an Achilles heel of the side last season and Deise players were making rash decisions to hit points from impossible angles and shoot for goals from unrealistic angles. The host’s defensive approach also resulted in their forward line going isolated at times.
Michael Ryan has set out his intentions to seriously challenge for league honors. The fact that only two players from the current panel have league medals is the motivation. Tipperary were extremely controlled throughout.
No weak point in any unit as the new players to the team stood up to the challenge. Stephen O’Brien aerial prowess is a real asset. Hamill at centre back, what a find, physical defender but his ball distribution was sublime. The two corner backs were real finds today, stuck to their task admirably throughout and ably assisted the excellent James Barry at full back.
A quick glance at Tipperary’s sub bench illustrates the squad depth at Michael Ryan’s disposal. The fact that Ronan Maher was not used today spoke volumes; Hamill was having an excellent afternoon. Seamus Callanan, Bubbles O’Dwyer, Michael Cahill and Seamus Callanan came on with ten minutes left to get some game time. Training session matches will be muck savage in Tipperary this season; competition for panel places will be incredibly hard fought. A dream scenario for Tipperary management.
Two Tipperary players stood out today. John McGrath score tally was to the fore but his work rate and free taking accuracy provided Tipperary with momentum particularly in the opening half. His goal was well taken after Noel McGrath’s shot was initially superbly saved. The goal spelled the end of the contest. Waterford tried hard but their lack of accuracy was evident in their shot selection. Austin Gleeson was subdued; not helped by switching from centre back, to centre forward and then in the square.
Tipperary have sent the statement to the rest and with the more established stars yet to feature significantly in the league so far (Bonnar Maher back in April), the Premier County will have a major say in both league and championship this season. Waterford are in the mix but they must eradicate the bad habits of previous season’s to realistically have a shot at winning Liam McCarthy.
Clare win; Cody not panicking
The 2-19 to 0-12 scoreline would have some inter-county hurling manager’s fearing the worse but Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was having none of it post game in Ennis today. Relegation is not a word in his vocabulary at present and he is looking forward to the rest of the league with confidence. However, privately there must be concern on several fronts.
Clare yet again exposed Kilkenny with speed and quick delivery to the full forward line. Aaron Shanagher was sublime today; his performance set the tone with several good points as well as an excellent goal which gave Eoin Murphy no chance. The victory also was set in the Clare half-back line display where the likes of Bugler and Fitzgerald constantly drove forward creating player overlaps.
The speed of Clare was too much for Kilkenny today on all lines. The full forward line movement was a joy to watch receiving quick ball from the half-back and midfield areas. The Kilkenny full back line were overworked today; full back position is glaring and Padraic Walsh needs to be switched to his favored wing back position. Paul Murphy at center back experiment did not work. Holden was vulnerable to pace and attacking runs throughout; the lack of pace defensively is an issue for Kilkenny and no genuine alternatives are to be seen.
The other glaring area for Kilkenny is to identify a goal threat inside. Apart from a penalty effort and Cillian Buckley effort in the first half after a run from deep, distinct lack of goal chances for Kilkenny today.
TJ Reid was typically workmanlike but he was double and trebled teamed at times, this should have opened up the game for other forwards but most were snuffed out. Richie Hogan struck an isolated, frustrated figure today. Ger Aylward and Colin Fennelly cannot come back quick enough but the squad depth is vulnerable.
Clare will be pleased with this performance. The subdued display on the road to Cork last weekend was hard to comprehend for Clare management but the players on duty today produced the work rate and executed the game plan to the letter.
It was quite similar to the what they produced last season in the NHL semi-finals where they ripped Kilkenny apart with speed, aggressive running lines and also quick ball delivery inside. The league has seen inconsistent performances from several teams in this division; something which will need to be addressed in the coming weeks.
Tipperary are in pole position with the rest of the chasing pack trying to find the right formula and combinations. Decent league start but the league quality will increase.
NHL 1B – Wexford in pole position, Limerick and Laois win
iThe resurgence of Wexford hurling continues. A two point victory over Galway at Pearse Stadium has the Slaneysiders with promotion in their own destiny. Davy Fitzgerald was quick to point out that this was far from the complete performance but any team that goes to Galway and comes back with the points deserves massive credit.
Their conditioning and fitness levels are the best in the league; evident in their late surge to beat Limerick last weekend and again they left it late with a flurry of scores to secure victory from the jaws of defeat. Galway will rue the scored missed during the opening period; two opportunistic goals were well taken but there was a lack of cohesion in the forward line units; player movement for colleagues was poor at times and needs to improve.
Galway are faced with the real prospect of 1B hurling again next season; not good for a county who are striving for All Ireland honors. Liam O’Donoghue like John Kiely should now look at their panels and give game minutes to fringe players; promotion is realistically out of reach after today’s result.
It will take a massive collapse from Wexford to not secure promotion from here with games against Kerry, Laois and Offaly to come. Davy Fitzgerald’s arrival has being the pure tonic for Wexford; the panel and hurling fans in the county are energized. Their application and work rate this season is a far cry from previous season’s where their league form let us be frank was abject at times (thinking back to last year in Gaelic Grounds and a horrendous defeat to Limerick.
Fitzgerald’s motivational skills are sublime and his passion for the game infectious. The question is whether Wexford can keep this level of intensity until the championship. I sincerely hope they do as it would make for an incredibly compelling Leinster championship.
Limerick got their league back on track somewhat with a facile win against a hard working yet totally outgunned Kerry at Gaelic Grounds. The first twenty minutes were compelling when Kerry had scored their second goal of the afternoon to level affairs but Limerick struck home a quick brace of goals to open up a lead that would be never relinquished. Several players impressed but Kerry’s resistance was broken early, more pressing tests will be a more accurate assessment of the likes of Lynch, O’Brien, Morrissey.
The worrying concern for Kiely and management will be the number of goals conceded today; three goals against a Kerry outfit was disappointing. Richie English at full back has to be the option for Limerick now; the Doon player will make mistakes but he needs game time in the position now. Richie McCarthy’s service to the county has being sublime but his pace is an issue now.
The Limerick half-back line is looking like a potentially superb unit. Byrnes is a player of massive potential. He has all the attributes; great aerial ability, pace and speed, ball striking accuracy. Hannan at centre back is a good move from management and with the likes of Hickey and O’Mahoney vying for the other wing back spot, it has massive potential. Limerick will look to build further confidence before a meeting against Galway; a defining test of how the team will fare for the upcoming championship.
Offaly are in crisis. Kevin Ryan is jinxed, another county where the commitment of senior players is questionable. The lack of discipline shown in Portlaoise last night was a bitter pill to swallow but to point to the two striking red cards would be most unkind to a Laois side who played the better hurling and were the better conditioned team.
Offaly were six points up early doors but Laois eventually got a foothold in the game with some nice points from Stephen Maher. The Laois running style was causing Offaly huge problems and the first red card came from this; the striking action was a red card, no doubt about it and Offaly were on the ropes.
The tempo of the game bordered on an exhibition game as Laois let the ball do the work, opening space for their inside forward line to score at will. Laois under Eamonn Kelly are going in the right direction but you sense that the likes of Wexford, Galway and Limerick will cause endless problems for their back line as they gave Offaly too much time and space in the opening period.
Where do Offaly go from here? They flirted with relegation last season but it might be required to focus minds in the county. The county are no longer a top hurling side and actions is required.
The underage structures will not produce miracles overnight but the lack of commitment from senior players in the county is bordering on disgraceful. Kevin Ryan has a mission impossible task at the moment; unless the panel fronts up and puts in the hard yards in training, it is doomed for failure. A loss against Kerry and it could be curtains as Laois were very comfortable winners last night.